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Steelers fans, welcome to the dog days of the NFL calendar

As the Pittsburgh Steelers embark on the off-season, the waiting begins for fans.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers and 29 other NFL teams have watched their 2017-2018 seasons officially come to a close. With the Pro Bowl wrapping up Sunday, in rather mundane fashion, the dog days of the NFL season are officially upon us.

Yes, Super Bowl 52 awaits but, after that culminating event, the football world goes dark. All we’re left with are Pro Days, mock drafts, and prospect reviews leading up to free agency and the NFL Draft.

These are the days with little-to-no news to speak of, and any news which does break during this time is rarely of the positive variety. For Steelers fans, it’s a tough time of the year. Left with a ridiculously sour taste in their mouths, pondering what might have been, the off-season leaves fans with more questions than answers. Lucky for you, this is why BTSC is the best Steelers site on the internet. Not only will we guide conversation and discussion, but we’ll be there every step of the way, never taking a day off.

Welcome to the dog days of the NFL year...

The off-season for the NFL at large hasn’t begun yet, but it has for the Steelers. A big part of planning for the 2018 season is dealing with free agency. And before the Steelers can sign any outside free agents (they can’t negotiate with agents of other teams’ unrestricted free agents until March 12), they can begin to sort out which of the prospective free agents on their current roster they want to bring back. And at what price.

There are three types of veteran free agents in the NFL: unrestricted, restricted and exclusive rights. Unrestricted free agents are players with four or more accrued seasons whose contracts have expired. They’re free to sign with any team (assuming no “franchise” or “transition” tag is applied to them by their current team) with no compensation due their former team.

JuJu Smith-Schuster and T.J. Watt continue to be recognized for their strong rookie seasons.’s Gil Brandt, a former vice president of player personnel of the Dallas Cowboys, selected the Steelers duo to his all-rookie team, which he unveiled Thursday.

Safety Sean Davis made Brandt’s all-rookie team in 2016.

Smith-Schuster and Cooper Kupp of the Los Angeles Rams were the wide receivers named to Brandt’s list.

Here’s what Brandt wrote about Smith-Schuster, the Steelers’ second-round pick out of USC who edged Watt for the team’s top rookie award:

“Smith-Schuster was targeted 79 times and caught 58 passes for 917 yards -- 15.8 yards per catch -- and seven scores. He also posted six catches of 40-plus yards, more than anyone but Tyreek Hill, Brandin Cooks and Antonio Brown, and a healthy yard-after-the-catch average of 6.8, per Pro Football Focus. Smith-Schuster proved himself to be an important part of the Steelers’ offense, and his ceiling is as an All-Pro.”

The Steelers’ new wide receivers coach worked with Hines Ward in college and Larry Fitzgerald in the pros, and it’s no coincidence they are as renowned for their blocking as their pass catching.

Darryl Drake is a proponent of having his receivers get physical, which made him a prime candidate to replace Richard Mann, who retired last week.

Drake, 61, was hired by the Steelers on Friday after interviewing with the team Jan. 18. He signed a two-year contract.

Drake has 14 years of NFL experience. He was with the Chicago Bears from 2004-12 and coached the Arizona Cardinals receivers for the past five years.

At his two previous NFL stops, Drake developed a reputation as a coach who emphasizes his wide receivers be able to deliver a hit as well as catch a pass. The Steelers have one of the best young blocking receivers in JuJu Smith-Schuster, who just completed his rookie season.

”We know what the passing game means to the NFL today, but you still have to be able to run the football and big plays come in that when your receivers block,” Drake told SB Nation last year. “It’s a matter of attitude. It’s all ‘want to.’ “